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Chariton Stepanov
Chariton Stepanov

Operator Of Bitcoin Mixing Service And Darknet Search Engine Arrested In Ohio

Other Bitcoin mixing services have come under fire in recent years amid a flurry of U.S. regulatory action. This past April, the operator of the Bitcoin Fog mixer was arrested in Los Angeles for having laundered roughly $336 million in BTC over 10 years.

Operator of Bitcoin Mixing Service and Darknet Search Engine Arrested in Ohio

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Grams is a discontinued search engine for Tor based darknet markets launched in April 2014,[5] and closed in December 2017.[6] The service allowed users to search multiple darknet markets for products like drugs and guns from a simple search interface,[5] and also provided the capability for its users to hide their transactions through its bitcoin tumbler Helix.

In August 2017, it was noted that an elaborate darknet phishing scam appeared as the top Google search result for "how to mix bitcoins", directing users to a fake version of the Grams Helix Light website that would steal their bitcoins.[19][20]

Due to the enduring popularity of the site, and relative ease of replicating the first few digits of a .onion address,[21] a number of illegitimate copies of the original Gram hidden service have been created.[20] These include a scam version of flow, the search engine, and even copies of the drug marketplaces indexed.[22][20] Several competing scams have replicated the "grams7e" portion of the address and are listed on links aggregators as if they are the now defunct original site.[23][19] Like the Helix scam, these sites defraud unsuspecting visitors of any money or personal details entered on the fake site or fake marketplaces it linked to.[20][19]

On February 6, 2020, the FBI and IRS arrested an Ohio man, Larry Dean Harmon, who they alleged was the operator of Helix and Grams.[24] Helix was said to have been partnered with AlphaBay, an illegal darknet market shut down in mid-2017. Harmon pled guilty in August 2021 and agreed to forfeit 4400 bitcoins as part of a plea deal, and faces up to 20 years imprisonment.[25] As of November 2021, Harmon's sentencing has been deferred indefinitely while he works under a cooperation plea agreement.[26]

The paid-for service allowed users to send cryptocurrency to recipients while obfuscating the source or owner of the funds. Harmon admitted that Helix partnered with various notorious darknet marketplaces including AlphaBay and Evolution to offer bitcoin-based money laundering services.

Specifically, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said he operated the Helix and Coin Ninjamixing service directly targeting the AlphaBay darknet market and specifically advertised the services as being able to prevent law enforcement tracking of transactions.

Larry Dean Harmon, who was the owner and operator of the Helix and Coin Ninja virtual currency mixing sites, was fined for violating the anti-money laundering provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act and operating an unregistered money services business, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN.

The Helix and Coin Ninja sites offered mixing and tumbler services for their users, FinCEN says. Tumbling is the process of using a third-party service or technology to launder bitcoins, while mixing involves breaking the "connection between a bitcoin address sending coins and the addresses that they are sent to," according to a blog post published by Will Gragido, a security researcher with security from Digital Shadows (see: Cybercrime-as-a-Service Economy: Stronger Than Ever).

The indictment alleges that Helix moved over 350,000 bitcoin - valued at over $300 million at the time - on behalf of customers, with the largest volume coming from darknet markets. Also, prosecutors allege that Harmon operated a darknet search engine called "Grams" that helped advertise Helix mixing services.


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